‘A Wild and Ardent Faith’: Testing Oppositions in the Post-‘Mutiny’ Discourse

  • Alex Padamsee

Abstract

In post-‘Mutiny’ British colonial discourse the Indo-Muslim ‘stranger’ came to pose an irresistible and insoluble problem in legibility. To approach this figure was, for the British writer, to risk the dissolution of a highly unstable official colonialist identity; and yet in 1857 he had become its most important point of reference. As I will now discuss with reference to the later published writings of Alfred Lyall, W W Hunter’s Indian Musalmans (1871), and the debate on the ‘Wahabi’ ‘panics’ of the 1860s, the visibility of the Indo-Muslim ‘stranger’ in colonialist rhetoric during this period narrates the desired invisibility of the rapidly changing and increasingly intrusive, post-‘Mutiny’ colonial state.1 His persistent illegibility, on the other hand, traumatically exposes the founding colonialist paradox of being at once a legislator of, and an actor within, the theatre of colonial neutrality. The result, I will argue, is a relentless process of descriptive segregation, the invariable fate of all ‘strangers’ in collective imaginings.

Keywords

Coherence Explosive Excavation Arena Egypt 

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Notes

  1. 14.
    The following discussion is based largely on B Metcalf, Deoband, pp. 46–71. But see also, Aziz Ahmad, Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian Environment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), pp. 201–18; and Pearson, Islamic Reform.Google Scholar
  2. 19.
    Francis Robinson, ‘Technology and Religious Change: Islam and the Impact of Print’ in Modern Asian Studies 27 (1) (1993), pp. 229–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 26.
    Syed Ahmad Khan, Review of Dr Hunter’s Indian Musalmans, Are they Bound in Conscience to Rebel Against the Queen? (Benares: Medical Hall Press, 1872), pp. 15–19, 29.Google Scholar
  4. 40.
    However, in addition to its Mughal class connotations, the term ‘race’ should also be regarded here as a collaboration in the text not only between its author and translator, but between itself and Indian Musalmans, in which ‘race’ is often used to denote a coherent Indo-Islamic entity. Although the title page of the review describes it as being written in ‘original English corrected by a friend’, Sayyid Ahmad Khan is known to have had at best a rudimentary grasp on the language (G F I Graham, The Life and Work of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (Karachi: Oxford University Press, repr. 1974; 1885), p. 5; Lelyveld, Aligarh, p. 33). Moreover, ‘race’ as a biological concept was not taken up with any consistency by Indo-Muslim writers until the early twentieth century; and even then, it interacted — as it most probably has done here — with other Islamic concepts of community, such as qawm, millat, and ‘umma (these issues are discussed in Javed Majeed, ‘Pan-Islam and “Deracialisation” in the Thought of Muhammad Iqbal’ in Peter Robb (ed.) The Concept of Race in South Asia (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 304–27). The word ‘race’ should then be read as reflective of the dialogic nature of the article as a whole, engaging with and appropriating, rather than merely denying the perceptions of its Anglo-Indian interlocutor.Google Scholar
  5. 59.
    On the Sensation genre, see Lyn Pykett, The Sensation Novel from The Woman in White to The Moonstone (Plymouth: Northcote House in association with the British Council, 1994).Google Scholar
  6. Nicholas Rance, Wilkie Collins and Other Sensation Novelists: Walking the Moral Hospital (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 70.
    The standard account of this development is still that of Stefan Collini, Donald Winch and John Burrow, That Noble Science of Politics: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Intellectual History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), especially chapters 1 and 3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 87.
    On which, see Cohn, ‘Representing’. As Thomas Metcalf has documented in terms of the built environment, this was a conflicted impulse that continued to organise British attempts at self-projection in India well into the early twentieth century. Metcalf, An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain’s Raj (London: Faber, 1989).Google Scholar
  9. Metcalf, ‘Past and Present: toward an aesthetics of colonialism’ in G H R Tillotson (ed.) Paradigms of Indian Architecture: Space and Time in Representation and Design (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1998), pp. 12–25.Google Scholar
  10. 126.
    Specifically, the dates given by Wali Dad of the movement’s battles with the British — 1846, 1857, 1871 — lead the narrator to ask if its imprisoned leader is a ‘Wahabi’. Wali Dad’s reply implies that had the leader not ‘lost his religion’, he may well have been considered one. The further, retrospective, implication is that it is for this reason that Wali Dad fails in his role in the conspiracy. Kipling, ‘On the City Wall’ in Louis Cornell (ed.) The Man Who Would be King and Other Stories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 228.Google Scholar
  11. 128.
    Given its central role in the story, it is surprising that no sustained critical attention has been paid to the Muslim dimension to the dissonance between Wali Dad and Indian society. He is more frequently interpreted either as an expression of a hybrid — and therefore, in the view of the narrative, marginalised — nascent Indian nationalism; or as no more than a component of the communal problem frustrating a nationalist future. For an example of the former, see Teresa Hubel, Whose India? The Independence Struggle in British and Indian Fiction and History (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1996), pp. 34–44; and for a typical instance of the latter approach, see Parry, Delusions, pp. 239–42.Google Scholar
  12. 136.
    Steel, Hosts, pp. 225, 272. The ‘homosocial’ male relationship in nineteenth-century literature, and the role within it of the female ‘exchange object’ has been explored by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  13. 141.
    Edkins, Religion in China: Containing a Brief Account of the Three Religions of the Chinese: with Observations on the Prospects of Christian Conversion Amongst That People (London: Trubner & Co, 1878).Google Scholar
  14. 181.
    This breach, moreover, has not occurred on doctrinal grounds, since Lyall also saw the rise of ‘rationalism’ as sadly, if inevitably, deleterious to ‘Western Christianity’ (Lyall, ‘Religious’, p. 276). lndeed, it must be considered as running counter not only to his own doctrinal thought, but equally to the mid-century cultural impetus in Britain to redefine a beleaguered Christianity against the terms of ‘rationalist’ criteria, and in contradistinction to the now discredited idea of ‘natural theology’ that had held sway in the previous century. On which, see F M Turner, ‘The Victorian Conflict between Science and Religion: A Professional Dimension’, in Gerald Parsons (ed.) Religion in Victorian Britain, Volume IV: Interpretations (Manchester: Manchester University Press, repr. 1995; 1988), pp. 170–97.Google Scholar
  15. 184.
    A C Lyall, ‘Our Religious Policy in lndia’, The Fortnightly Review, No LXIV, New Series, 1 April 1872, p. 406. Editing the essay for inclusion in Asiatic Studies, Lyall attempted to remove the direct equivalence of British and Mughal rule by inserting the phrase, ‘in some parts of the country’ after ‘Musalman sovereigns’. Lyall, Asiatic Studies, p. 284.Google Scholar

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© Alex Padamsee 2005

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  • Alex Padamsee

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